Astronomers have detected an extraordinarily powerful cosmic ray particle that slammed into Earth on September 22nd. Dubbed the "Sun Goddess Particle", this is only the second observed cosmic ray exceeding 100 quintillion electron volts (eV), making it the highest energy particle detected since the famous "Oh-My-God Particle" in 1991. But unlike that previous record breaker, this latest arrival has scientists completely baffled as to its origins.
An Unexpected Impact
The cosmic ray in question, now named Amaterasu after the Japanese Shinto sun goddess, was observed by the Telescope Array cosmic ray observatory in Utah. According to telescope spokesperson Professor John Matthews, they did not expect to ever detect something like this:
“Since beginning operations in 2008, the Telescope Array has not observed anything above 100 quintillion electron volts. So this event is completely unexpected. Having two 100 quintillion electron volt particles detected on Earth less than 20 years apart is mind-blowing.”
While most cosmic rays originate from within our own galaxy, an event with this much energy likely came from far beyond the Milky Way. But pinpointing a precise source has proven impossible. Amaterasu appears to have arrived out of nowhere – specifically a large, empty region of space known as the “Local Void”.
Mysteries of the Local Void
The Local Void is a vast, spherical area spanning 150-200 million lightyears in diameter. Containing very little matter, it should not be capable of accelerating particles to such extremes. As professor Matthews explains:
“This particle came from the direction of the Local Void, where there are no galaxies with energetic, cosmic ray-producing objects typically associated with these kinds of astrophysical phenomena. Its unexpected detection has initiated intense theoretical activity amongst our scientists.”
|> 220 quintillion eV
|September 22nd, 2022
|Local Void region
Key properties of the detected Amaterasu particle
Although lower energy cosmic rays have been detected coming from this void before, the immense force required to generate Amaterasu’s energy is orders of magnitude beyond anything spotted there previously.
Some theorists propose it was created in an invisible, supermassive object deep in the void. Others suggest a new, currently unknown mechanism for accelerating particles to ultra-high energies. But with no candidate sources visible, exactly where and how this astonishing particle gained such speed remains an open question.
The anomalous nature of Amaterasu may necessitate new physics to explain its mind-boggling qualities.
Cosmic rays with energies surpassing 100 quintillion eV were previously thought impossible. They require 10 million times more force to propel than even particles within the Large Hadron Collider – the most powerful accelerator ever built.
Modern physics sets fundamental limits on achievable energies from known processes. Exceeding these would force a rethink of long-standing theories.
UC Irvine’s Professor Michael Cherry summarizes the history-making implications:
“Two 100 quintillion electron volt particles in one decade requires extreme physics, which we might be on the verge of discovering. These milestone events provide compelling evidence that we are now exploring new territories in astroparticle physics, necessitating new models.”
Hunting for Answers
Further study of the Local Void offers perhaps the best avenue towards unraveling this intractable mystery.
The Telescope Array will continue monitoring the void, hoping to catch similar events that might expose some hidden source. And a next-generation observatory named ‘Cosmic Dawn’, set to exceed its sensitivity tenfold, will soon aid the search from Antarctica.
Professor Matthews outlines the road ahead:
“Solving the mystery object responsible for accelerating the highest energy cosmic ray ever recorded will require more observatories like the Telescope Array with even greater capabilities. We have to keep building these experiments bigger to collect more ultra-high energy particles and isolate their points of origin.”
Until the processes behind such staggeringly powerful emissions can be determined, the anomalous Amaterasu particle remains a monumental challenge to science – one that may ultimately reshape its theories.
With another unfathomable cosmic ray now added to the list of mysteries awaiting explanation, the secrets of the universe appear stranger and more surprising than ever. The space science community will undoubtedly be working overtime to unlock the next era of discoveries this exceptional event heralds.
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